Waaw Artist residency, Saint-Louis, Senegal, 2017
I wrote a piece about my feelings of Saint-Louis which , if you can bring yourself to read more, is this…..
La Ville de Saint-Louis
The streets are holes with sheep Feet shuffle along, barely leaving the ground
Where to walk is vague…..the pavements parking spaces, sometimes not
Battered yellow and black Renaults are taxis…their horns signify they are near, you are in the way or need a ride?
The boys in their dusty oversized sportswear carry plastic pots They scavenge and scrap, delight in the mundane and play like dogs
They move beside you as if ‘un hombre’ with their hands outstretched, muttering their desires as if saying a prayer or reciting lines from an unknown performance
‘CAVA? NENGA DEF,SALAAMALIKUM!’
‘MADAM COME HERE,SEE MY WARES,TAKE SOMETIME. HOW LONG ARE YOU IN SAINT-LOUIS?’
Je ne comprend pas, but sometimes i do, but i do not want to talk to you
I need to look out for moving vehicles sheep in twos and threes for lakes that have formed in the recent rain
I need to protect my thoughts.
What do you want, is it my toubab cash or do you like my eyes?
The fault is mine, I cannot say, as i walk away that i have nothing to give
I am here to take but from the very heart.
To follow you to new places, where trees grow like the folds of a mammoth, where dogs sleep in pits of sand and….
‘LET ME SHOW YOU MY HOUSE’
‘NO WAIT! WHO ARE YOU? I AM NOT SURE, I DO NOT KNOW YOU AND FEEL INSECURE’
….to lines of trees where sheep are tied and cats seek shade to lie. Take me to the river, across the bridge past the pirogues in all their colourful delight the egrets preening on their prows
Dodge the plastic and decay…..’LOOK INTO MY EYES, PLEASE TAKE MY PHOTOGRAPH. TOUBAB!TOUBAB! TOUBAB!’
More oversized sportswear and food encrusted faces football games with balls barely inflated
‘WE KNOW WALES….ROOGBY’ a universal language
In and out of narrow lanes of sheep and lambs and mothers with containers…..
for rice and fish, with clothes to wash- busy all the time
even in quiet moments there are important words to speak, maybe…….
‘give me some space, leave me alone’ except this is not expected.
These are streets like nothing i have seen.
They are narrow and crowded, they are 5 families to a house, they are sheep filled and sheet filled and children under your feet.
They smell of fish that is caught and cooked and dried and eaten
‘Fair play’ I read on the wall- so familiar but so far from home
This place sells ‘lait’, it is painted on the wall
The football team is white…i wonder about this
Follow the road past the pelican that thinks he is a sheep…..past the busy, busy people
Mind the horse and the bus and the waspy taxi
Past the place to salt fish, a land that is all maron
Then more houses built of block and streets paved with plastic… the new village where egrets strut and goats chew on the indigestible
The hum is the sound of ice being made to keep the catches fresh
the smell of a perfumer with no sense of smell- fish and trash and sheep.
The ocean pounds the sandy shores, sometimes jade, sometimes aqua and always so warm.
The rivers carries terns on rafts and pelicans float free from tethers
They are white and clean as if freshly painted and the fish they catch is theirs
There are buoys that appear to move through the waters like the heads of Du gong, towed by an unseen force
The Great Comorants grace the skies with their prehistoric gait
Egrets ,like angels, punctuate the blue blue skies
There are illusive reptiles, lizards the size of dogs the coconut palms bend to the winds and hold tight to their fruit
The ocean is pulled towards a man-made gap, stealing land and homes year by year
The river flows like coffee with milk as the street fills with water
The rain takes no prisoners as we cower in corners, under eaves and in door ways
I wonder what the new lakes contain as i brave the skies and make my way to my Saint-Louis home.
A place of contrast not just from the outside.
UNESCO, the higher power, Saint-Louis must hold onto it’s colonial past
The buildings crumble with age and humidity and it seems concern.
There are moments when warzones from the evening news come to mind.
This though is a different war- against the past, when lives were commodity and traditions such that women were queens before they were placed in chains.
The Europeans came and took and built and changed a way of life.
It is a luxury to think of a future, to think ahead and plan
When yesterday your ancestors were sold as goods…when today there is shit to be moved, floors to be swept, food to prepare and washing to be done
When this was your everyday and again for others in houses more beautiful than yours
with polished wood and painted walls and furniture to elevate, soft cushions and linen, fans to circulate the air- alien places for cigars and gin.
While this space (still) exists, still out on the street a woman sits, her baby on her back, hand outstretched, feet bare, no faded leather couch and crisp linen for them
These places feel like oasis
like rescue from a storm but not quite real with a not quite feel of a past i can’t relate to.
To take the very soul, like we did, to mould it as if it were soft enough, into something different, better, more suited to existence above the sand.
If you always lie om the ground, you can always be looked down upon
There is other richness here for everyone, in the colour of the starlings, in the music and the stories and in the way the sun slows life down
A richness that cannot be stolen (except by the sea)
but sometimes it is hard to see through the forest of unwanted conversation, unwelcome bodies by your side and hands trust to your hips
If i look up to the baobab flowers, to the swifts as they flit through the sky, to the kites and their silent vigil.
See the balconies of the past, faded and crumbling, polished and restored
The fruit bats clattering in their daytime roosts and the terracotta roofs
If i just listen to the singing from the mosque, to the birds in the flamboyant tree
If i just breathe deeply, there is the scent of damp and wast in every corner, piss in unlikely places
Eau de poisson et mouton and sweat…of onions cooking and in the early hours bread.
The paint flakes, the metal rusts…… the joys of Saint-Louis!
I thank everyone who helped me crowd fund to get to Senegal and Cambrian Mountain wool for sponsoring me with wool fibre.